The Bird of Hermes is My Name – Musings on Hellsing Ultimate


I saw the original Hellsing series when it came out and kind of dug its style, especially that catchy OP, but that’s about all I could really say about it. When Hellsing Ultimate began all the usual hype went around about how it would be following the plot of the manga all the way through, unlike the series, and thus would be much better. I began to watch it and figured it was basically more of the same, albeit more fleshed out and better animated, and with some slightly jarring humour thrown in with its increased tendency to briefly turn all the characters super-deformed.

However, as I watched, I increasingly got the unnerving sensation that for all the ultra-violence, ridiculous accents and hammy characters, Hellsing Ultimate may just be a lot more intelligent than I had given it credit for. This inkling began early on, but it didn’t really take hold until the end of the third OVA, wherein Alucard makes a rousing, and incredibly self-aware monologue. I had been watching the show dubbed, since a) these people are meant to be British, so it only makes sense b) in Japanese various characters break into horrible Engrish on a regular basis, and c) the English dub is very very very good anyway. There has been incredible confusion with licensing, leading to massive delays in the show being dubbed , so I recently, despite patiently waiting years to see episodes 1-8 dubbed, caved in and watched the last two episodes subbed.

The final four episodes in particular convinced me that there’s a lot going on beneath the surface of Hellsing Ultimate, so I’d like to discuss some of my observations and interpretations. Please note, this post will contain MASSIVE SPOILERS for the entire OVA set, so do not read this if you have not completed Hellsing Ultimate.

Self-awareness? In my ultra-violent cartoon?

Self-awareness? In my ultra-violent cartoon?

One more quick disclaimer before I get into the meat of this post. Hellsing Ultimate makes many references to the basis of modern vampire fiction and the mythos surrounding it. Unfortunately, I know very little about this and thus will not be covering, in any depth, this facet of Hellsing.

Let’s start with a quotation we hear many times throughout the OVAs: “That which defeats a monster is always a man.” Alucard repeats this line in various incarnations throughout, and at first it comes across as more than a little dissonant, since he himself is a monster who kills monsters, but the real meaning is made clear later, when he asserts that only humans kill monsters because only humans try to kill monsters. He also makes a declaration that for all he might do, the killing intent comes from Integra alone, which demonstrates what part he believes he himself takes in the proceedings.

The question I feel that naturally follows this is: “What is a monster?” Different characters have different takes on this, and the only one to make his view explicit, the Major, is implied to be wrong, so this is a little difficult to answer, but here is my theory. A monster, according to Hellsing, is a being either without its own autonomous will (this is what the Major posits), or one whose will is that of pure destruction (probably closer to Integra’s perspective). To Integra, the Major is undoubtedly a monster, and to the Major, Alucard, who is not so much one being as a “castle” of souls, is undoubtedly a monster.

The Major is an individualist to a fault.

The Major is an individualist to a fault.

This is where Hellsing’s ongoing discussion of men and monsters leads into a discussion of free will and individuality. Following the Major’s reasoning, Alucard is a monster because he has no will of his own. It is also revealed that when Alucard sucks a person’s blood, he essentially absorbs their soul. I would contend that the vampires’ lack of a strong will is the result of the commune of souls within them. There is undoubtedly a dominant personality, but perhaps a vampire’s directionless and baser response to stimuli is the result of the conflicting wills within them. Here we have a dichotomy between individuality and collective operations. While he admits Alucard is something magnificent, he hates him because what he represents is power obtained through the sacrifice of one’s own faculties.

To make this dichotomy more complicated, the Major is not simply human, and Alucard is not simply a monster, they are both complex, somewhat contradictory examples. By our second definition of a monster, as per Integra’s perspective, the Major is a monster, and Alucard does show a will of his own outside of that of pure destructive tendencies, thus he is a human-like monster.

Even a sense of gender identity has been lost to him.

Even a sense of gender identity has been lost to Alucard.

There is a key quotation throughout the series that is never directly referenced of explained. “The bird of Hermes is my name, eating my wings to make me tame”. This is actually taken from an ancient alchemical text called the Ripley Scroll, a symbolic reference to the Philosopher’s stone. Honestly, there’s an entire post just in discussing the connotations of this reference, so I’m gonna focus on the parts of it that are relevant to the angle I’m already taking.

The bird of Hermes is clearly meant to represent Alucard. He “eats his wings” by being loyal to Integra and letting her be his limiter. Not only does this show a will of his own, it shows an anti-destructive will, making a counter-point to his status as a monster. Alucard is the only vampire in the series to show this kind of complexity in his behaviour, with the exception of Seras. What’s more, he rescues and nurtures Seras Victoria, but more on her shortly. It should also be noted that it’s the bird of Hermes, and Hermes was known to trick the other Gods for the benefit of humanity, which fits Alucard’s role as a monster that fights monsters. Why does he follow Integra? Whimsy, boredom, respect, self-awareness? Who knows, but it’s clearly curious behaviour for a vampire.

Seras Victoria is a revolutionary aspect in this monster-human/individual-collective dichotomy, and her thematic role in the story, I would argue, warrants her position as a main character more so than her involvement in the strict sequence of events. Firstly, she becomes a vampire not out of cowardice, or fear of her own humanity, but rather is forced into it with no other option but death. She initially resists the need to drink blood, but when she does drink blood, she does not take it by force, but is offered it, which manifests as very different powers to any other vampire. If the Major represents individuality, and Alucard represents a forced collective strength, then Seras represents willing cooperation, a functional companionship wherein both parties retain their own will and work cooperatively to an end.

Honestly, this is only skimming the surface of Hellsing’s thematic well. I’d love to talk about the further connotations of the Bird of Hermes quotation, Alucard’s emphasis on restraint, the importance of Walter or Integra, the Religious implications, the allusions to Dracula and Vlad the Impaler, and the other ways Seras is a unique factor in the conflict, but this entry is already more than long enough, and the things I’ve talked about here are the parts I found the most fascinating.

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10 Responses to The Bird of Hermes is My Name – Musings on Hellsing Ultimate

  1. tehelks says:

    “I’d love to talk about the further connotations of the Bird of Hermes quotation, Alucard’s emphasis on restraint, the importance of Walter or Integra, the Religious implications, the allusions to Dracula and Vlad the Impaler, and the other ways Seras is a unique factor in the conflict, but this entry is already more than long enough, and the things I’ve talked about here are the parts I found the most fascinating.”

    A further discussion on the above items would be fascinating, if you would be so willing to indulge us readers 🙂

  2. froggykun says:

    You should do editorials more often, man. This was some fascinating stuff.

    • alsozara says:

      To be honest editorials take a lot more work/time haha, but it was a lot of fun to write, so I will endeavour to do more.

      Thanks for the compliment, bro, much appreciated.

  3. Dominic Eredia says:

    This was my first time watching this movie, and I was really intreiged by all of the underlying symbolism and mixture of religion, mythology, and historical reference, the reality of truth in the fiction, it’s a questioning of ourselves, of who we are, what we will be become, and how we are to achieve it.

  4. CrackinSkulls187 says:

    This is pretty much amazing explanation.. thank you man ! I really would like you to continue on it ..

  5. badnews says:

    your take on this subject is absolutely brilliant. most people don’t see beyond the violence while there’s is more at play than they showed. eg Anderson ,major and to some point zorin blitz. the complexity is deep. but ur spot on

  6. Ahsan Amjad says:

    Where you asked the question that why does Alucard follow Sir Integra.
    If you watch and pay very close attention you will see that the first man to defeat Alucard was Van Hellsing and that is one other reason why he says “Only Men Can Kill Monsters”. He has served the Hellsing Organisation ever since he was defeated by Van Hellsing he became their servant.

  7. Paolo V. says:

    It’s been almost a decade since the manga / OVA concluded, but here and there, I revisit Hellsing not just for good ol’ action, but something that I’ve been trying to put into words.
    And there! You managed to pin down what is that kept me thinking about Hellsing all these years.

    People, and Kouta Hirano himself, say that Hellsing simply follows “the rule of cool” and that it’s one of those shows / manga to simply enjoy without delving too deep into it. But finally! Some who didn’t only notice the power of “consensual blood drinking,” but who also wrote about it.

    Thanks man! Hope you’re well, wherever you are now.

    • alsozara says:

      Honestly it’s surreal to see people still occasionally like and comment on this blog I abandoned so long ago.

      It really warms my heart, and I’m super proud of this piece so I’m glad it’s the one that got the most attention.

      I wrote it precisely out of frustration that the action and gore is all anyone seemed to talk about with Hellsing. It really does have a lot more interesting subtext than most people give it credit I think, and I’m sure I only scratched the surface here.

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